Though it did seem that the man he had under surveillance was quite paranoid and looking for someone who was watching him, Kent felt certain that he had not been seen as he waited for the other man to leave. He had been observing the routine now for long enough to recognize when the other man felt threatened and when he was merely wary. Today was a day where, despite the usual paranoia, he walked away without looking back a third time. Two had satisfied him no one was following, which was true—Kent had no intention of following today as he had other days.
He started across the street, making sure that no one had doubled back to check again before entering the building. Though his clients had been reluctant to believe it of their daughter, Kent knew she’d come to this place willingly. No one could remember her leaving. That could mean any of a number of things, as she could simply have decided to sever ties with her parents and her friends for this man, as some foolish people did. Kent did not care what they chose to do with their personal lives, but he did find it tedious to be hired to investigate when it was only some child who was too irresponsible to call their parents and inform them of such a decision.
Still, if that were not the case here, and she had trusted the wrong person, then Kent’s time was invaluable, as hers was quite possibly short or even over already. He would not know until he could verify her condition.
He entered the building and started up to the next floor. He already knew the apartment he needed, so he did not pause as he made his way upstairs. He activated the wireless signal disrupter, knowing it was likely paranoid to think this person would have cameras outside his unit and also that they might not be wireless, but he felt better using it, as there would be less repercussions if the girl was not present or was there against her will.
He would rather not deal with legal entanglements in that respect, even if his mother was a lawyer. Shaking his head, Kent removed his lockpick kit as he reached the designated floor, taking out the appropriate pair for the size of the lock.
He felt a sense of satisfaction as the tumblers fell into place, thinking a bit of their respective geometric shapes and pleased to think of them aligning as he undid the pins and opened the lock. That passed quickly, since he’d learned to be efficient at this task, and he was able to open the door without too much trouble.
Kent stepped inside and looked around, stowing his lockpicks again. He heard something, perhaps a whimper, as he did. He frowned and followed it to its likely source, wincing when he uncovered the girl, bound up with chains and covered in dark marks—whether those were from her bindings or not was difficult to say, but she was assuredly in a lot of pain.
He saw her flinch as he reached for the gag in her mouth, and he considered for a moment not removing it lest she scream, but he did, thinking that might help calm her some.
“You… you’re not… him.”
“No. I am a private detective. Your parents hired me to find you. If you will forgive my reach, I will unlock these chains. That is behind your back, but I should be able to do it. It may cause you pain and almost certainly discomfort.”
She looked like she might cry. “Not a trick? You… really… you’re here to free me?”
Kent nodded, reaching around her for the lock. This was more difficult when one could not see to align the tools properly, but it must be done. He could not tell how she reacted as the position forced her to bury her face in his chest, not aside from the trembling that was making it hard to work.
“Have you ever heard of the uncertainty principle?” He did not give her much time to respond, though her trembling ceased for a moment as she stiffened, stilling in what might be confusion but was most likely fear. “They do sometimes refer to it as Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle. It speaks to a fundamental limit in which complementary variables can be known, such as position and momentum. The more one is known, the less another can be known, in simpler terms.”
He finished with the lock, opening it to free it from the chains and loosen them from her. As they fell free, he moved back, trying to smile at her. “There. That’s better.”
She whimpered, and he flinched, not liking that sound at all. He reached for the buttons of his coat, slipping out of it and passing it to her. “Put this on, if you can. I… I will assist you if you need me to.”
She pulled it over her, grimacing and biting her lip as she did, not crying out but almost certainly wanting to do so. She was dwarfed by the coat, far too small inside it, and it seemed to make her look frailer than before when she was in chains.
He swallowed, about to tell her they should go when she flung herself at him and grabbed hold, sobbing against him. He stared at her, a bit confused. Now what did he do? He needed to rise, but if someone saw him carrying her out in this state, he’d be the one blamed.
“Tell… me… more,” she said. “Your voice… It… It sounds nice. Kind.”
“I have never heard anyone else say so, but if it will help, as we do need to leave before he returns, then by all means. If you will permit me to carry you, I think that is best, and I’ll tell you some more about… Well, for some reason, everyone seems to find that cat fascinating, though I doubt it would be much comfort at the moment. Um… What do you know about particles?”
“Tell... me… everything,” she said, and he started to as he lifted her up to carry her out of the room.
Kent parked the car near the entrance, shutting off the engine and getting out. He almost locked the door out of habit before remembering his purpose and stopping himself. He crossed around to the passenger side and opened the door. She jerked, startled into awareness, and he thought she might have bolted had she not been so injured and unused to freedom of motion.
“I am not surprised you lost consciousness. Your injuries must be painful, and the way he had you chained would make resting difficult. However, you are still safe. I simply opened the door so that I could take you into the hospital.”
“No. You can’t. His mother is a nurse. She… You can’t. I can’t go in there.”
Kent shook his head. “This is not the one where she works. I double checked my notes on that before I brought you here. I do not know that she is aware of her son’s actions, but I did not want him informed prematurely. I… He will learn you are gone. That could only be prevented if he never went home again, but that does not mean he should be warned. I am hoping my contacts at the precinct will have him in custody before then.”
She shivered. “Please don’t...”
“I am under obligation to report him even if you do not wish him to face these consequences.”
She shook her head. “No, I… That’s not… I know he needs to be arrested. I know… he needs to be stopped. He said he couldn’t stop himself...”
Kent grimaced. “That is likely not true, but we should get you inside for treatment.”
She reached for him, her eyes wide and watery like she might cry again. “Don’t leave me. I… I know you don’t know me… but don’t leave me here alone...”
He shook his head. “It was my intention to inform your family—”
“No. Don’t tell them. Don’t. They…” She shuddered, and the tears did start then. “What… what if they… side with him? It… He’s an old friend of the family. We grew up together and still… I didn’t know him like I thought I did. I didn’t… I didn’t think he could ever do that to me. I trusted him. They trust him. They… they won’t think he did this… They’ll think… it’s my fault… and it is—”
“I fail to see how you could have been enough of a threat that he would have needed to chain you up and the amount of bruising and the state of your clothing… His actions were not about defense, and I do not believe they could be your fault.”
“I was alone with him.”
“And if that is all it takes for a man to lose his control, I believe the fault lies with him. Admittedly, one’s libido is not always controllable, some reactions are physical and instantaneous—humiliating, even—but I do not believe that all men are so ruled by the biological impulses as to be unable to resist sex if the opportunity presents itself. Even in most animal species the instinct is not that high and ‘rituals’ must take place first before any attempts at reproduction occur. It is not impossible to resist that instinct or those hormones.”
Kent shook his head. He was still a man, and he’d known himself to have impure thoughts and those same biological responses he’d just spoken of a moment ago. Some still shamed him deeply, even if they were simply reactions to certain stimuli out of his control. “Come. You need those wounds seen to properly.”
“Can’t you do it? I don’t want anyone else to see me.”
“I lack the proper tools to be certain your injuries are not worse than they appear.”
“I’m fine. And if they are… I deserve them...”
“No, you do not.”
She shook with her sobs. “You don’t… you don’t know what I did… what I ignored… what I thought… why I… why he could…”
“No. You did not deserve it. What you do deserve is proper medical treatment.”
“How… can you be… so sure?”
“Perhaps I will tell you… after you have seen the doctor.”
“I didn’t ask your name before.”
She looked over at her savior, relieved he was still with her, hadn’t left her as soon as the doctors and nurses started examining her. He’d averted his eyes for a lot of it, but he also stood close enough to where she could hold his hand, and she had, as much as they’d let her, since the whole thing was awful and terrifying and painful. Now they were alone again, in the room they gave her since they wanted to keep her overnight, and she was tired, but she couldn’t sleep.
If he left her… Would Toma find her?
She knew it was foolish to be so dependent on a stranger, even though she knew he knew who she was, but she didn’t know him or why he’d chosen to come for her. She would forever be in his debt. She knew Toma wouldn’t have let her go. He intended to keep her forever, telling her it was for her own safety, but he was the one keeping her in chains, the one acting like that was love when it couldn’t be love.
She had loved him… but she couldn’t love him anymore.
“Tell me? Please?”
“Kent Mizutani,” he told her, and she blinked, trying to place that name. Wait, hadn’t there been a Kent that worked at Meido No Hitsuji for a while? It was before her time there, but she’d heard rumors that he was the reason Ikki worked there—along with the others that said he was close to Waka and the best cook the cafe ever had. She wasn’t sure about either of those last two, though. “And I now work as a… private inquiry agent. I was hired to find you.”
“Oh. So you’re not Ikki’s math friend that used to work at the cafe.”
He paused and then shook his head. “Actually, Ikkyu and I are… well, arch rivals no longer quite describes our interactions. He says he’s going to buy into my business as soon as he graduates, though. And I did work at Meido No Hitsuji and still do sometimes if Waka is in dire need or I feel I should supplement my income. This kind of work is not the most financially stable, but it has been oddly satisfying.”
“Oh.” She looked down at her hands. “Um… If my parents hired you… you have to tell them you found me… but… you don’t have to tell them where I am, do you?”
He frowned. “That… does seem a bit counter to my purpose. They wish to know how you are.”
“You can tell them I’m alive. That’s all they need to know about this.”
He looked down at his hands and took a breath, letting it out before he spoke again. “You believe it too shameful to tell them.”
She shuddered, fresh tears coming as she forced herself to nod. Even just what happened today was terrible, and how could she speak of that to her parents? “Yes. And… I already said this… but if they trust him… Please don’t make me go back to them. I’m sure I don’t have an apartment anymore, but I can’t go home to them.”
He pushed his glasses up, closing his eyes for a moment. “It… I suppose I cannot speak to their reaction, that much is true, but I still believe you should not blame yourself. The defect is not in the victim but in the perpetrator. It is simply that the perpetrator and others blame the victim when often there was nothing they could do. And before you start to protest, let me simply ask you… if you had been… if a younger girl, maybe not even a teenager yet, had been with him, alone because she trusted her friend of the family as you did, if a child were in that position… would you still blame the child?”
She felt sick. “No. God, no.”
“It is true you may have had more ability and perhaps could have known better, but trust is something… trust can be abused, and when that happens, it is sometimes hard to see.”
She nodded. That was certainly true in her case. She’d gone on believing in Toma far longer than she should. She’d trusted him despite all the warning signs. “Kent...”
“The sedative they gave you should be taking effect soon. Please rest. You need it, and you will not have to hurry home nor fear that I will leave before you wake.”
She felt tears again even as the fatigue got the better of her and she had to close her eyes.
Kent found himself with a roommate.
This new development was more than a little surprising given that he’d not really intended to cohabitate after leaving his parents’ home. In needing to rent an office space, he’d ended up with a place that could double as his residence for the same cost as one that would not, and he’d taken the opportunity to separate himself from financial support from his parents as well as sparing himself their confusion and disappointment that he’d chosen this path.
He knew his father had believed Kent should follow him into math research, and failing that, Kent was supposed to go into law like his mother. He had even planned on research until a short time ago.
Still, even with Ikkyu’s threats to buy into the business and become his detective partner—some nonsense about every Holmes needing a Watson—Kent had not expected to share this space with anyone.
Now he did, and sharing space with a woman unrelated to him was… difficult in many ways. More than just her trauma made things awkward between them, though as she feared, her apartment was gone and her parents would only support her housing if she returned home with them, which she refused to do—and understandably so, they were neighbors with the father of the man who’d imprisoned and abused her. That man did not believe his son had done any such thing—in fact, that seemed to be the consensus among most that knew Toma—that he was too kind to have done anything this awful to anyone, let alone his “little sister.”
Kent knew it would be a hard fight to get those charges to go as far as they should, and he didn’t know that they’d convict Toma despite her testimony. Since Kent had not witnessed any of the abuse himself, it was only her word against Toma’s, and with most people believing he was a good man, the odds were far from in her favor.
And she knew it. She wasn’t stupid, for all that she kept saying she was for trusting her childhood friend as much as she did. That was half the reason she was still residing with Kent. Toma could end up walking free soon enough. Sending her home could mean her death.
So… Kent had a roommate.
Technically, he mused, he now had three roommates. Or at least, he would if this idea was palatable for her. He pushed open the door, hands full, and was startled to find someone taking the box from him as soon as he did.
“You’re back early,” Kokoa said, though he did not think that it was good she’d been waiting for him like that. Understandably and yet perhaps counterproductive to her recovery, she was not comfortable when he left for work or any other reason, to where if he’d had a social life before, he would almost feel obligated to forgo it. He believed she worried that she would end up back in her former situation if they were separated for long, which was not impossible but no amount of statistics of its probability helped ease her worries.
He had settled on an alternate approach instead, though he honestly had not thought she’d grab the box the way she had.
“Something’s moving in here,” she said, frowning just before the creatures within the cardboard crate mewed. “Wait. Did you get a case where you have to protect cats?”
He found himself smiling as he set aside his other burdens, crossing to her to take out first the orange tabby and then the black housecat. The orange one went straight for his glasses again, and he sighed.
“Oh, they’re adorable,” Kokoa cooed, taking the orange one away from him so his glasses were safe. The black one curled up on his shoulder and started to purr. “So cute. So… are they for a case? You didn’t answer me.”
He shook his head. “They’re for you.”
He sat down, careful of the cat as he did, but after he settled, it released its claws from his shoulder. “You don’t like being in the office alone, and even though I suggested my parents’ home as a temporary measure, you don’t like it, so… I thought it best you had some companions while you work on resuming your studies.”
Her tears started to flow, and the orange one reached up to bat at her cheek. “Kent...”
“Oh. I… I did not mean that you have to go back to your studies if you do not wish to. Of course, personally, I value education and think it’s a loss any time someone gives up on it, but having chosen this path, I also must respect someone who has found a vocation where further education is unnecessary.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. I didn’t think you were lecturing me about going back to school. You know I want to, and you’ve been helping me keep up my studies as much as I can without sitting in class because that many people, all of them... I feel like they’re all judging me. They might not even know about it, but… I feel like everyone does, and I’m so ashamed...”
Kent shook his head, not certain if he needed to rise and guide her to the spot next to him or if she would take it on her own. “You are not to blame for Toma’s actions. Even if someone—your friend Shin, for example—thinks you were an idiot for trusting Toma, you are not. He would be just as guilty because he stepped back and allowed your trust and his own as well to make him back off in a situation he knew was compromised. I am not saying that to place all the blame on Shin, but if you were thinking that he was judging you—”
“No.” She did sit next to Kent then, leaning her head against the shoulder without a cat. “You have been… so kind to me through all this. People keep saying you’re insensitive, but you haven’t been with me. Well, a few times, but not over… that. Not about… I mean… you just got me cats so I wouldn’t be lonely, and I just… I don’t deserve this.”
Kent closed his eyes for a moment before reaching up to shift the cat to his lap. “Kokoa, you… are in a vulnerable position, and I fear that makes you feel I am… something I am not, some kind of hero at times and… I am not. I am insensitive. In this instance, I have not been, that is true, but… that is born of experience.”
She lifted her head, frowning at him. “I… What…? I feel like I should say more, but… I don’t. You have this look on your face and it’s almost scary because you look… you’re in as much pain as I am all of a sudden, and I don’t understand. Did I—”
“No. Stop blaming yourself. It… This is not a subject I speak of easily or even… at all. After it was over, disclosed to my parents and… dealt with… That was the last time I spoke of it. Ikkyu does not even know. It is… I dislike hearing you blame yourself and thinking you’re unworthy. I don’t know if there is any other way to show you it is not a fault in you. It’s not. It never was. Toma and perhaps others allowed you to think it was because you trusted them, but someone taking advantage of your trust is not your fault. Nor was it mine.”
She almost forgot to move the cat when she embraced him. “Kent… I’m sorry. I didn’t even… It’s so wrong to say I didn’t think you… that you...”
“Believe me, I wish it were otherwise. Even though my parents were very logical people and never lied to me, it took many years to accept that… that I was not to blame for trusting my tutor as I did. He made it seem… natural, an extension of our lessons just on a different subject… and it took too long for my doubts to overcome his reassurances and make me turn to my parents for the truth. I… As I said, my parents and their logic and insistence that things were otherwise… that helped, though it took time. It… I believe you will also see it someday, that it was his manipulation of the situation, not you, to blame. No amount of warning can prepare you for someone you trust betraying you, not because you are stupid, no, but because until trust is broken, we don’t understand that it will be, sometimes not even that it can be. Admittedly, I… I was still very young when this occurred, and you may try and say it was different because you are older, but you loved him. He was a brother to you first and then a potential lover. My tutor was… a mentor and a friend and even an older brother. Or I thought he was. Your feelings for Toma were greater than mine toward that tutor. You forgave some of those warning signs because he was someone you loved. You didn’t think there was malice behind his actions and you believed in him. A lot of people did. It was not just you. You were the one he chose to harm, though, and make no mistake—that was his choice. He can rationalize his actions with the threat from Ikkyu’s fan club as much as he wants—that does not change what he himself did—he drugged you and locked you in a cage and then in chains. Those actions are criminal. And he did not stop there.”
She trembled, and Kent held her, feeling awkward. He had spoken of this for nothing, hadn’t he? It was not helpful, and he should have kept that to himself. No one needed to know, not now. It was long over, after all. His mother had seen to the legal angle, and most of that he did not remember clearly or wish to, not after what he’d learned of his tutor.
“You have nothing to apologize for.”
“No, not… I’m so sorry that person hurt you. You… you didn’t deserve that. You… I can’t even dream of facing Toma, but I feel like finding that man and hurting him for you. You… you would have been such a cute child and for him to do that… I’m just so… I would go find him and hit him or something. I know it wouldn’t mean much, I’m not that strong, but you’ve been so wonderful to me...”
He shook his head. “None of that is necessary. It… I did not want sympathy, just… I wanted you to understand that it wasn’t you… and… I suppose it is sort of foolish, but I do believe your smile when you saw the cats was all the compensation I need.”
“That’s not very practical.”
“It is for me to place value on what I want, isn’t it?”
“True.” She leaned her head against him. “Um, Kent...”
“It was handled. You don’t need to worry about that.”
“No, I… You are making a lot of assumptions today.”
He grimaced. “I will work on that. It does seem to save time sometimes if I can summarize what you’re trying to say, but I have been doing it too much and been too impatient. I will take more care in the future.”
“Oh. Um… does that mean I can stay? Like… well… maybe not quite but… maybe… forever?”
“I do not think I want to picture this apartment without you.”
“Oh. Does that mean…?”
“I did just get you some cats.”
She laughed and hugged him. “Thank you. For everything. Not just this but… for telling me. I know that wasn’t easy.”
“It… No, though it was only possible because it was you. No one else… I wouldn’t tell others.”
“Thank you for trusting me, Kent. I promise to do my best so you never, ever feel like I broke that trust. I don’t ever want you hurt like that again.”
She put a finger to his lips. “You just became ten times more wonderful to me, and I know you won’t understand that, but… I think of you overcoming that, of you being able to share it at all, and I just… admire you so much...”
“Your gratitude may be confusing your feelings.”
“I’m never not going to think you’re wonderful. You got me cats.”
He couldn’t help it. He laughed, and she laughed with him, and for a while, everything was lighter, like a weight had come off, though he knew that was an exaggeration. He’d been under no physical burden. Not unless he counted her, but having her with him was actually quite enjoyable.
Like her, he wanted her to be able to stay forever.
“Do you have to work today?”
Kent shook his head. He’d just concluded his last case the day before, and while he should find something else, he could feel his fatigue and suspected that he might be developing a cold. He did not like being ill, and he had observed that ignoring such signs generally led to his illness lasting longer and making him more miserable as the toll on his body was higher if ignored.
Resting today might prove beneficial in the long run, and he had a suspicion that since she was asking him about his schedule, she wanted to do something. “Did you have something you needed help with today? I know we just got groceries, but I suppose there are other things you might want to shop for. I do think I will say no to another trip to the pet store. The cats are spoiled enough as it is.”
“They are not. They’re just well cared for, that’s all,” she said, almost pouting a little, and he found himself almost laughing at her expression. “Not that I wanted to go to the store for them. I… I was actually thinking of a movie marathon.”
“Okay, so I have a few reasons for this. I haven’t seen any of my old favorites in a long time, and I think… well, I’ve even been avoiding it to a degree because… I am a bit afraid of the things that remind me of my childhood. Toma was such a big part of it, and he… I can’t go back, but… I don’t want what he did to ruin all of my memories, either. I want to reclaim what I can and make good memories again, so… I want to watch my favorites with you. And I… I got to thinking, and I know it’s wrong to say it or assume it, but that man… he did kind of take away part of your childhood, didn’t he? So maybe you could… do the same and reclaim it some.”
“I… I was not the sort of child who spent much time on fictional things. I was focused on education, even then. I...” Kent winced, a familiar sense of shame rising as he thought about how that side of him had been exploited by the tutor he thought he trusted.
She took his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I just thought… I thought maybe… I don’t know. It was stupid of me to bring it up and hurt you. I just wanted you to have… the same thing I’m chasing, those fleeting moments of innocence when I didn’t know how bad the world could be, when villains were good or evil, light and dark and not the mix in between, not the person I thought I knew but a quantifiable monster instead of… someone I used to love. And that’s… I… I know it’s not the same. It’s not...”
Kent pulled her close to him. “It is clearer to me now that my childhood was not… normal. My parents being as logical as they are has been… it created a unique situation, to say the least. And I was always more interested in learning than playing, and only in hindsight have I learned that something else may have been missing from that time. Ikkyu helped me see part of that, but you… you have shown me much more than that.”
“Oh. I’m glad.” She looked up at him. “I think.”
He smiled at her and ruffled her hair, glad he had found the appropriate level of touch for that. “It’s fine. If you wish to watch some films, I would be agreeable, but I may not be the best choice for such a thing. Ikkyu only watches movies with me that he thinks my reaction to will be more entertaining than the film itself. If he enjoys the movie, he doesn’t typically share it with me.”
“His loss,” Kokoa said, pulling away from him. She bounced on her way to the kitchen, and Kent stared after her, not wanting to think about what his life would be like if he had not gotten that case that led him to her. She had already changed far too much here, and he could not go back to the way it was.
“I am not certain watching this particular film was wise.”
Kokoa shook her head even as she sniffled, trying to hold back her sobs. This part always made her cry. She couldn’t help it. It was just so sad. She knew it was coming, and she knew it wouldn’t change, but it always hurt a little to see this part. She didn’t like watching anyone die, but this one hit harder than usual this time.
“Perhaps we should—”
“No,” she said, curling into Kent and clinging to him. She held onto his shirt for all she was worth, suddenly terrified of the idea of losing him. What would she do if something happened to Kent? He was her whole world. Oh, she had school, and she couldn’t ignore the cats, but Kent…
“I think we should stop here. This is—”
“No. I swear it’s not… I’m sorry. I just… It’s sad. It is. And I know you’ll say something about natural selection or something, but it’s his mother. She died. She died for him. And that… it somehow… I didn’t expect it to make me cry. It hasn’t done that in years.”
“You’re shaking. I can’t see this as something worth continuing—”
“It is. Just trust me. It’s worth it. I may need to sit here like this for a while, though.”
Kent put a hand on her head. “I can’t see the value of hurting yourself this way. Is this truly entertaining? Why?”
“This story is about overcoming prejudices and working together and also moving on after tragedy. They make themselves a family, and it’s beautiful. Sad, but wonderful. Okay, so the one girl is very annoying, and sometimes I wish I could smack her, but the others are worth it. And she comes through for them in the end, too. They all learn and grow and get less selfish. It’s full of many good lessons.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
She almost hit him. “You. I know I like this movie even if I ended up crying. Sometimes when it’s good, you cry. It’s not just because things are terrible. People cry out of happiness, too.”
“That seems unlikely.”
She looked up at him. “Are you trying to argue with me now? You know it’s possible. I did it when you brought home the cats.”
She saw him frown, and as he did, she had a sudden urge to kiss it away. She lowered her head again, not wanting to ruin this moment with that. She knew better. She didn’t want her emotions to make a mess of things again. She knew that Kent wouldn’t hurt her, not like Toma, and even that mean voice that always reminded her that she’d trusted Toma couldn’t convince her otherwise. Kent was so gentle, even if he sometimes didn’t know his own strength, and he often hesitated to start any kind of physical contact. He’d been hurt so badly as a child, and he was careful about what he did, even asking if things he’d already done before were still okay. She always made sure he knew she liked it, but sometimes she thought he believed she was only saying it to appease him.
She wasn’t, but she thought maybe he’d done that a few times with the man who’d hurt him, trying to convince himself he wasn’t bothered by what that man did to him. That made her so angry for his sake. She wanted to go back and protect the boy he’d been, but she couldn’t. She could only stay here now with the man he’d become.
She barely stopped herself from the urge to say she loved him. “I like watching movies with you. Please don’t ask me to turn it off. I just… want to stay like this with you.”
One of the cats jumped up into her lap, and she almost smiled. “See? Now we have to stay put. That’s the rule.”
He laughed. “That is not true, not even if both—no, that wasn’t an invitation to you—well, they are both here now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t move if we need to.”
“Yes, it does.”
“Shh,” she said, putting a finger to Kent’s lips, and he shook his head, but he didn’t protest again. She was glad, too, because she didn’t want to leave him. Not ever.
He lifted his head from his book, blinking a few times as he realized he’d actually fallen asleep doing his research. He’d needed more information on this particular kind of lock since he wasn’t that familiar with it, and he’d have to open it in an extreme hurry if he wanted to get past the gaps in their security.
“It’s late,” he said, looking at the darkened window. “Why are you still awake?”
“I came to check on you one last time before bed. I figured I’d wake you up and make you go to your own, since it’s not good for you to sleep out here, but at the same time… it’s hard to wake you when you’re resting.”
“I’m sorry. I did not realize I was particularly difficult to rouse.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. It’s… you’re always working so hard, and I feel bad interrupting your sleep when you actually are sleeping, because it’s pretty rare when you do. You’re so busy with cases and with the project you’re helping your father with, and I don’t want to be any more of a burden to you—”
“You’re not.” He shook his head. “You help keep the apartment and office in good order when you’re not in class, and you have been doing very well there. I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to finish your education. It was not like you chose to take that semester off. It was forced upon you, and I’ve already told you that I value knowledge.”
She nodded, twisting her lip a little as she prepared to speak again. “Um… do you think maybe...”
She grimaced. “Well, you know how Ikki is always saying that every Holmes needs a Watson, and he made you Holmes—and I know you don’t particularly like Holmes and being compared to him—but do you think maybe… I could be your Watson, not Ikki?”
“You… wish to be Watson?”
Her face by now was quite red. “I want to be your assistant. I want to be more help to you than doing household chores. I’ll have a degree in psychology soon. I can help with analyzing people’s behaviors. I mean, it’s not a doctorate yet so I won’t be a doctor like Watson and he wasn’t the same kind of doctor anyway, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help more.”
“Very true. Yet… is this actually what you want or are you feeling you must repay me further or… this is not because you are still uneasy about being alone, is it?”
“I’m not alone. I have the cats for company when I’m not at school, and I can always call Ikki or go to your parents’ house if I need to. I have options. I just… want to work with you. I want to spend more time with you. Do you… do you really hate the idea?”
“No, I would not say that.” He didn’t know how to tell her that she would be a distraction, not because she was incapable, but because he had started to notice reactions in himself that did not correspond with platonic sentiments.
“Then… I can?”
He nodded. “Yes, but… let us begin with my next case so you don’t have to worry about catching up and you may even be done with your current courses by then.”
“Yay!” Kokoa cried, throwing her arms around him and startling him with her enthusiasm and her embrace. Why did she have such an appealing scent to her? He didn’t even like most flowers despite his many experiments with plants, but on her it was quite nice.
Everything about her was quite nice, actually, and this felt… oddly comfortable, making him not want her to let go. He sighed.
“Oh, right. Sorry. You’re tired. You should really get some sleep, Kent. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” he repeated, though he knew he would not be able to sleep now, not with thoughts of her in his head.
He stopped, feeling something tugging on his coat, and he turned back to face her only to find she was somehow clinging to his back, making her nearly impossible to see. Was she panicking in the crowd? He knew they were not always so easy for her to deal with, not after all she had been through.
“What is it?”
“I love you.”
He blinked, a bit startled by those words, especially given where they were at present. He reached behind him and pried her hands free of his coat as gently as he could manage, leading her around to face him. “If that is so, why are you hiding in my coat?”
She grimaced. “Because… I didn’t know how you’d react to me saying it. I… You...”
He felt a bit of pang to understand her meaning. “You thought I would reject you?”
She nodded, misery clouding her face. “Yes. I… You… have been saying since almost the beginning that I was too vulnerable and could mistake my gratitude and relief for something it wasn’t, that I made you a hero when you weren’t… And I know I have always considered you my savior, but that’s not going to change because that’s what you are. I couldn’t have gotten out of there on my own. Even when I tried to talk to him… No. I owe you, that’s true, but… that’s not what this is.”
He touched her cheek as she started to cry. “I did not say that it was.”
“I… It really isn’t. I kept wanting to say it, but today it was even stronger an urge and not for any particular reason—we’ve walked this way plenty of times before, and it’s not any different, but… it… that may be the point. I don’t ever want it to be different. I want to stay with you forever. Not just because you make me feel safe or because you got me cats but because… I love you. I do. It’s not anything else. I am grateful, but it’s not gratitude that makes me love you. I… I love your kindness and your intelligence, I love how passionate you can be about math but also be about your cases and those random facts you know that amaze me and are so fascinating and calming… I love the sound of your voice and the feel of your hand and those times when we fall asleep near each other and I can just listen to your breathing and your heartbeat… Maybe those aren’t enough reasons, but I… I love you.”
She buried her face in his coat again, and he had to nudge her chin up so she’d face him.
“I am not finding fault with your reasons, as much as there is still a part of me that does not think you should hold such feelings for someone like me. I may be… intelligent, but hardly the sort of man you deserve, lacking in sensitivity despite my… understanding of certain parts of your past. I am not as gentle or as careful as you need.”
“No, you’re fine. You’ve never hurt me. Even when we argue, it’s not like we… We’re not horrible to each other. We’re both kind of stubborn, but we aren’t malicious.”
“That is true.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any—”
“It is also true that I have noticed that for some time now I have had feelings that seemed… rather romantic in nature. I lack proper experience to gauge whether or not such feelings are, in fact, love, but I cannot say I have not felt them. I have not spoken of them, believing them unwelcome, but under these circumstances...” He smiled at her. “I think they should be said, don’t you?”
She frowned. “Are you teasing me now? I almost want to swat you, and yet… I also really want you to kiss me.”
He felt awkward about that, but he managed to laugh. “Not here. We are actually on our way somewhere, if you recall.”
“Oh. Right. Dinner with your parents. This… should be interesting.”
He took her hand. “They already like you a great deal and would be pleased to hear that we have settled this matter.”
“It’s not settled.”
“No, you didn’t kiss me, and I’m still not sure I won’t give you a swat for being so… so… smug.”
He shook his head. “I assure you. I am not trying to be smug. I am simply… happy. It is a strange feeling, but… my childhood did confuse some matters for me, and in other respects, not just my family’s predisposition for logic, I… emotions weren’t really anything I understood or wanted. I was overwhelmed by them and felt that you would be as well if I did speak of them to you. Now that I no longer have to worry over that, I am relieved. And… pleased. I do not know what I would have done if you had chosen to love someone else. You are too much a part of my life.”
“I feel the same way about you.”
He smiled at her, though he found himself still reluctant to admit that his mind was already trying to calculate the appropriate length of time and at what stage they were now so as to know when might be acceptable to propose.